Paul Hartwig Jr. Turning Ridicule into Respect
Paul Hartwig Jr. is one of the most well-known names in New Jersey auto racing. For most drivers that would be quite a flattering statement. With Paul that has not been the case. That is until recently.
Paul has been around racing his whole life. His father has been a crewman on numerous local race teams for many years. As such, he has become very familiar to those who compete on the three oval tracks of the state. But, it isn't his longevity that has made him so well known.
To better understand Paul's story one needs to start with his childhood. Paul, like many of the children of those involved in NJ racing, got his first taste of driving behind the wheel of a Quarter Midget at "Little Wall", the small paved oval located adjacent to the Wall Stadium Speedway pits.
Although Paul won a few races, he knew, even at the age of 10 or 11, that being overweight not only hurt his chances of winning races, but of also fitting in with the other children. It was here that he most likely started hearing the negative comments regarding his racing efforts.
Undaunted, Paul made the transition to the big tack, and began running Go-Karts, and Bandoleros on the flat inner track of Wall Stadium Speedway. Enjoying the biggest win of his racing life, capturing a victory on Turkey Derby weekend.
That triumph soon turned tragic, as a number of personal issues befell his family, including losing their home. Racing needed to be put on a backburner.
When he did return to racing he was finally old enough to compete on the high banks of the historic Jersey Shore oval. He began competing in the Factory Stock division, and won in only his fourth race. Going on to capture five total wins at Wall, Paul could of possibly became one of the top drivers at the track, but that isn't why he has become so well-known in NJ racing.
Part of his notoriety came from his negative experiences at the speedway. Always an emotional racer, he became involved in several on-track incidents which continued on into the pit area. Those incidents caused him to be banned from the track, something he readily admits was mostly his fault.
"I was young, and did some stupid things. But there was also a time when I came into the pits with no brakes, and ran up on my own trailer, and was kicked out," said Hartwig.
No longer able to race at the track he had grown up at, Paul began to buy race cars from seemingly every division, and both asphalt and dirt. He even bought a car for every division of the indoor races.
He competed on dirt briefly, and often loaned his race cars to others for use. However, wanting to compete, he began traveling to race tracks such as Chemung and Mahoning.
Paul chronicled all of his efforts on Facebook where he was often ridiculed for his lack of both success, and focus, on just one division. While those who knew him well appreciated his kindness to others, and attempts at competition, many naysayers, or haters as Paul would say, had nothing but unkind things to say. It almost became popular to criticize the young racer.
That all seemed to change when Paul made a racing decision based on a personal family matter. His father had gone to New Smyrna Speedway, many years ago, as a crewman on the Modified car piloted by Ronnie Mullen during Speedweeks.. He often told Paul it was his dream to one day see Paul Jr. compete there.
Although competing at New Smyrna during Speedweeks was something Paul knew was way above both his experience, and financial level, he also knew he needed to do it now. You see Paul's father had lost his mother, and both his brothers, at the age of 49. Paul Sr. would turn 49 this year.
With Speedweeks starting the following Friday Paul didn't even have a car. What he did have was a chassis he had picked up in Upstate New York in the back of a pick-up truck. If this was going to happen it would have to be an epic scramble.
Using the money he had made snow plowing through his Ace in the Hole Landscaping company, and with the help of several friends and family members, he began assembling an asphalt Modified out of anything he could afford, and find, on such short notice.
Something also began to happen online for Paul. As he constantly updated his Facebook profile with their progress, the comments changed from negative to positive. Whether it was his hashtag of #livingthedream, or a genuine appreciation for his efforts, people were offering tips, parts, and even good wishes. The guy who was often criticized for his racing efforts was now being cheered on by the Facebook racing community.
As the car was nearing completion, Paul made it public he had one huge problem. He didn't have a truck, and trailer, capable of making the long trip to Florida safely. Rather than become an internet joke, the statement was again met with valid suggestions, and offers.
One of those offers came from the Rutt family. They not only offered Paul use of their truck, and trailer, but their help during Speedweeks.
Once on the road, Paul and his wife Lisa, updated their Facebook profiles with their location during the trip. As they got closer to Florida, the possibility of competing on opening night, Friday, began to become real. Although it wasn't in the original plans, the encouragement he was receiving made him now want to try.
They arrived just in time to race, and couldn't get off to a worse start. A broken driveshaft on lap 2 ended their night. Again, the response on Facebook was mostly positive. In fact when word came that original race winner, Ryan Preece, had been disqualified from the win, and placed last, many commented on how he had finished higher than a former NASCAR Whelen Mod Tour driver.
The respect for Paul's efforts didn't end with social media. At the track he found as many as 10 people looking to help him. He had also arrived in Florida with no race tires, and was quickly offered slightly used tires by both the Hossfeld and Bertuccio teams. Later in the week the Catalano family gave him a set of chrome wheels with tires having only 16 laps on them, which gave the number 73 a very professional look.
Unfortunately, despite all the efforts, the week didn't end well with Paul blowing his own motor, and one he was sold while there. He didn't win any races. But he did win some respect, and he made his Father's dream come true. How does it get any better than that?
For Paul it's an attempt to compete on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Something that a year ago at this time would have been met with more ridicule than anyone could imagine.
However, unlike his New Smyrna effort, Paul will be much better prepared. He, and his team have assembled a quality car with the help of two of New Jersey's most knowledgeable Tour drivers, Jamie Tomaino, and Jimmy Blewett. He will again have use of the Rutt Racing truck, and trailer, and a number of sponsors have come on board to help him with his efforts.
His crew includes his dad, Paul Sr., James Rudd, Neil Rutt Jr., Neil Rutt III, JC Duvall, Rob Page, his biggest supporter his wife Lisa, and his mother, who watches the children, and holds down the fort while the team is on the road.
Sponsors include Himmer Graphics, A.Casola Farms, Green Monster Insulation, Morgantini Race Engines, and his own Ace in the Hole Landscaping, which just became an advertiser on our Shop the Sponsors page.
The first Southern Tour race on his schedule will be at South Boston. If all goes well he is also considering Bowman Gray, Charlotte, and Hickory.
He also plans to compete in some SK and ROC races throughout the year.
Beyond that, who knows. Could we see Paul Hartwig Jr. at Bristol, or New Hampshire? If we do, we will cheer him on like we do any other racer from New Jersey, and respect him at the same time for #livingthedream.